Saturday, December 17, 2011

Desjardin-Stroecker Farm--a remnant of early Fairbanks agriculture

Desjardin-Stroecker farm as it looked in 1995
The Desjardin-Stroecker Farm, located at 2.5 mile on Farmer’s Loop Road, is one of the few remaining signs of Fairbanks, Alaska’s agricultural past (besides Creamer’s Dairy, which is probably the subject of a future column).

Gold may have been the impetus for bringing Westerners to the Chena River drainage  in the early 1900s, but miners were not the only people attracted to the area. The history of farming in Fairbanks is almost as old as that of mining.

Homesteaders also arrived in Fairbanks on the early steamboats and by 1908 there were 130 homesteads in the area. By 1920 there were 1,700 acres under cultivation. The federal government was also quick to notice the agricultural potential of the area and in 1906 established an Agricultural Experiment Station near where the University of Alaska would eventually be established.

Early gardens and farms provided all the fresh produce for Fairbanks and the surrounding area. Before construction of the Alaska Railroad (ARR) all freight to Interior Alaska took months via steamer and riverboat. Even after the ARR completed a line to Fairbanks in 1923 the term “fresh” was relative.

The earliest farms and truck gardens were developed on the outskirts of the town: on Garden Island to the north, and to the south of 14th Avenue (present day Airport Way). As the city grew and land near town became more valuable, the farms and truck gardens moved to outlying areas such as Yankovich Road, Farmers Loop Road, Fairbanks Creek and Chena Hot Springs Road.

In 1912 local farms grew 300 tons of potatoes and by 1934 that had increased to 700 tons. Grain crops were also successfully grown, with 6,000 bushels reaped in 1920. The Interior proved so conducive to grain production that a flour mill was constructed in Fairbanks during the 1920s. Unfortunately, the mill burned down in the 1930s and was never rebuilt.

Farming became such an integral part of the local economy and culture that the Tanana Valley Fair Association (now the Tanana Valley State Fair Association) was formed in 1924. Fairbanks first agricultural fair was held Sept. 11-13, 1924 on the playground at the city’s public school.

Most of the early farms are gone, either absorbed by the city or subdivisions, or lying abandoned and overgrown. There are still some old farm buildings out in the hills, but the Desjardin-Stroecker Farm is perhaps the most visible. It was developed by the Desjardin family, who moved from Quebec to Fairbanks in the 1920s and farmed in the area for many years. They raised potatoes, hay, produce and livestock. Some of their fields were leased by Charles Creamer before World War II. For many years the fields and buildings have been owned by the Stroecker family of Fairbanks, which is related to the Creamers.

Included at the site are three structures: a small log cabin, a barn which has a lower level of logs and an upper frame section, and the lower log courses of another structure which looks like it may have been a greenhouse. Although the farm buildings are no longer occupied the fields behind them are still cultivated.